United Dioceses of Dublin & Glendalough

General

01.03.2017

What We Do Speaks Volumes About Lent – Archbishop Addresses All Hallows Service

Archbishop Michael Jackson was the preacher at a Service of Penitence and Preparation, All Hallows College Chapel this morning (Wednesday March 1). His sermon was based on the reading at the Ash Wednesday Service, St Matthew 6.1: Be careful not to parade your religion before others …

All Hallows Chapel
All Hallows Chapel

He said that the advice Be careful not to parade your religion before others was not easy to understand in today’s context in Ireland where religion and its practice had largely retreated behind closed doors.

The Archbishop explained that Matthew was referring to the situation in the mind and heart of an individual who is worshiping in a public way. “It ties in with the theme that often comes to the fore in Lent: temptation, because the temptation here is to watch yourself, to follow the progress of your piety, to show yourself off as you do your religion in public. And this is precisely what is strongly being discouraged!” he said.

However, the Archbishop added: “Giving voice to our Faith by who others see us to be; by what we do; and by how we welcome the stranger will speak volumes about Lent as a time of creation, as a time of love, as a time when God hates nothing and no one that God has made and as a time when, through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we are called by God to let freedom and discipline together lead us into the wilderness as a place of exploration as well as a place of testing”.

The full text of his sermon is below.

Service of Penitence and Preparation, All Hallows College, Dublin

Ash Wednesday, March 1st 2017

Reading: St Matthew 6:1–8

St Matthew 6.1: Be careful not to parade your religion before others …

Sermon preached by the Archbishop of Dublin, The Most Reverend Dr Michael Jackson

A piece of advice such as this: Be careful not to parade your religion before others … is perhaps not so easy for us to understand today in our context in Ireland where religion and its practice in the Christian tradition, at least, have by and large retreated behind closed doors, become private and overwhelmingly invisible. I give you a recent example, however, of those who tried in the context of our island culture and Irish welcome to express their Faith and their religion but without success. I remember a couple of years ago being at a Christmas Service in a church in this diocese that involved the participation of Indian Christians. Part of this act of worship involved members of that community walking round different parts of a small conventional Church of Ireland church building with lanterns and singing songs. The origin of this activity was in the fact that, when first they came to Dublin, they did what they did at home in a multi–cultural and Many Faith India, they walked around their neighbourhoods doing the very same thing – carrying lanterns and singing songs at Christmas. To be honest, they got a hard time and met with hostility in Dublin. So they had to re–locate from the public arena to the inside of a church building. They had brought with them from their home context an outdoor festivity that was misunderstood as unwarranted and unwanted public religion. They had to withdraw for their own safety. Such was the welcome as they voiced God.

Be careful not to parade your religion before others …even if it is simply intended to share happiness and show neighbourliness, just in case you get badly hurt.

The context of this morning’s Reading from St Matthew’s Gospel is also a fault–line, but in a different way. There is a confrontational situation with a difference. This situation is in the mind and in the heart of the individual who is pictured as worshipping in a very public way. It ties in with the theme that often comes to the fore in Lent: temptation, because the temptation here is to watch yourself, to follow the progress of your piety, to show yourself off as you do your religion in public. And this is precisely what is strongly being discouraged! The person who does this type of public religion is compared with a hypocrite: and hypocrites is the Greek word for actor in a play. The context in first century Palestine is one of Graeco–Roman culture where there would have been lots of public theatre. So the people to whom St Matthew has Jesus speaking would be well aware of the posturings and contortions and the genius of actors who represent someone other than themselves on stage – because that is their job. Their job is to be actors. The job of the religious follower is something different: to represent yourself and to represent God within you. Lent is about representation in life rather than representation on stage.  

Be careful not to parade your religion before others … when the temptation is to play to the audience or indeed the gallery in church and out of church.

One final thing I should like to say and it is very simple. Too often religion divides while it defines. The truly wonderful thing about this Reading from St Matthew 6 is that prayer, almsgiving and fasting are part of the life of Christianity, yes indeed, but also of Other World Faiths, including Judaism and Islam and are part of many Other Faiths also. (And I always need to remember that when I use the phrase: Other World Faiths, I myself am Other in my Faith to them in their Faith.) I am not asking them to be the same as me nor am I assuming that we are interchangeable one with another. That would be to do a grave injustice to them and to me. What I am alluding to is something quite different: the suggestion and the invitation that a common practice can contribute to a common goal while we retain our distinct identities and distinct motivations. Such an expectation presupposes that we each have an identity, that we work to nurture, understand and develop it; that we can and will give and account of it if and when questioned by those of anOther World Faith. What we do derives from who we are and what we do shapes who we are yet to become. Doing gives voice to being; being gives shape to speaking. Giving voice to our Faith by who others see us to be; by what we do; and by how we welcome the stranger will speak volumes about Lent as a time of creation, as a time of love, as a time when God hates nothing and no one that God has made and as a time when, through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we are called by God to let freedom and discipline together lead us into the wilderness as a place of exploration as well as a place of testing.

Be careful not to parade your religion before others … particularly if you still need help to work out what it is all about and how it might enrich you and other people. Take your time. And don’t be afraid to learn with and from other people. God will be there for you.